Cause area

Global health and wellbeing

If you want to help people living today, supporting global health and wellbeing is a pressing matter. There are millions of people in low-income countries whose lives could be improved (and even saved, in some cases) by evidence-based, cost-effective interventions.

Please note that this page was formerly titled "Improving human wellbeing" — we have since changed the name to better reflect the causes and organisations we now recommend in this area.

Why is global health and wellbeing important?

Many people alive today are not afforded with the opportunities they should be. As of 2015, over 700 million people are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than roughly $2 USD per day — and that number already adjusts for the difference in what one dollar can buy in a higher-income country versus what it can in a lower-income country. Millions of people — almost all from low-income countries — die each year of preventable and curable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhoeal disease. Mental illness accounts for 10.5% of the global disease burden, with illnesses such as depression and anxiety affecting millions on a daily basis.

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do — and your donations can have a substantial impact. We recommend some of the best charities and organisations working on global health and wellbeing.

Examples of work in global health and wellbeing

This cause area encompasses a range of specific causes that are all aiming to save and improve the lives of people today.

Reducing poverty and illness

By improving the healthcare and economic conditions of the world’s poorest, you’re helping others live the happy and healthy lives they deserve. The top charities working on these problems are able to save a life for approximately $5,000 USD. The fact that this number is so low reflects extreme inequality in how the world’s resources are shared, but it also means that individuals from wealthy countries have a tremendous opportunity to change (even save) someone’s life for a comparably low cost.

To learn more about reducing poverty and illness, we recommend:

Improving education

Education is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce poverty and improve health, gender equality and economic growth. Yet millions of children around the world are not getting the education they need to reach their full potential.

To learn more about why improving education is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on education.

Improving mental health

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can cause tremendous amounts of suffering, as well as having major economic costs. Yet, treatment can often be effective and inexpensive. For those who see people’s subjective experiences as uniquely important, working to improve mental health is a promising way to improve the lives of people alive today.

To learn more about why improving mental health is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on mental health.

We also think there are some good resources on mental health as a pressing cause from the Happier Lives Institute. They’re particularly focused on “subjective well-being” which is a term for how people feel, moment to moment. Their key ideas are available here. We've also released a recent report on HLI as part of our 2023 evaluator research project.

Empowering women

There are many barriers to women's empowerment, including legal discrimination, social norms and gender-based violence. But there is evidence that interventions can overcome these barriers and improve women's lives. Empowering women and girls is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty and improve health and education outcomes not just for women, but for their children and families as well.

To learn more about why empowering women is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on “Women’s Empowerment”.

There are also excellent resources on Our World in Data:

Why might you not choose to prioritise global health and wellbeing?

Though we think improving global health and wellbeing is among the highest-priority cause areas you could support, there are reasons you might choose not to focus on it.

You might think you can do more good elsewhere

Depending on how you weigh the suffering of nonhuman animals compared to humans, and future lives compared to present, you may decide to prioritise animal welfare or reducing global catastrophic risk. Even though there are a large number of people in poverty, animal welfare and reducing global catastrophic risks are both larger in scale, which means you can potentially affect many more lives by focusing on these areas. (There is an astronomical number of people who could live in the future, for example.)

We think these are important considerations, each requiring judgement calls that depend on your worldview. Read more about how to choose between causes.

Common doubts about the effectiveness of international aid

There are other reasons that some people choose not to prioritise global health and poverty that we do not find persuasive. For example:

These concerns and others are discussed on our page that addresses common concerns about donating to charity.

We generally recommend giving via a fund (here’s why). These are our top-rated funds improving human wellbeing:

You can also donate to Giving What We Can's Global Health and Wellbeing Fund, which will pool your money with other donor's contributions and allocate it based on the research team's latest research into which evaluators and grantmakers are best-suited to help donors maximise their impact. Read more about how this fund works and why you might donate to it.

These are our top-rated charities improving human wellbeing:

Learn more about how we choose which charities and funds to recommend.

Since our list of recommendations is shorter than in recent years (see why) you may also be interested in checking out some of our other supported programs working on global health and wellbeing.

Other ways to help

There are other ways to help.

  • You can work or volunteer for organisations working to improve global health and wellbeing. Check out the 80,000 Hours Job Board to see some of the job opportunities in this space, and read its career guide to learn more about how you can build the skills most needed to make progress.
  • You could apply for a Charity Entrepreneurship program, if you're interested in developing new charities to address pressing issues within global health and wellbeing.

Learn more

To learn more about global health and wellbeing, check out the following resources:

Our research

This page was written by Michael Townsend.

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